Day Twenty Seven: Extending Family

Psalm 148
Isaiah 49:5-15
Matthew 12:46-50

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy
in each other’s life.
Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
Richard Bach

Maybe it was simply because it was our first Christmas away from home, but this year I found myself particularly aware of distance (both geographical and emotional) in relationships.

As I was talking on the phone to my youngest brother in the United Kingdom, even he remarked, “Well, now you know how it felt for me – that first Christmas in a strange country. Except, you cheated – your whole family moved with you.” 

As I ponder those words “your whole family” in light of today’s texts, I am amazed at how God has enlarged my capacity for love and my experience of joy through the blessing of an extended family accumulated over the years:
a family born not of blood;
but of shared belief and service,
of stories offered and received – some light with laughter,
some heavy yet somehow lightened by the telling;
of conflicts worked through and forgiveness offered;
of – as Richard Bach puts it – respect and joy in each other’s life,
no matter how far away we may be or when last we talked.

What were your thoughts, your feelings about “family” over this sacred season?

Who did you reach out to?
Who reached out to you?
Who did you long to hear from, but didn’t?
Who are you missing?
Who do you feel physically or emotionally distant from at the moment? 

At the height of Jesus‘ ministry, his mother and brothers try to visit him, but the room in which he is teaching is packed with people and there is no easy way for them to gain access to him.

So they send in a messenger with the news that they are waiting to see him; confident that when he hears about their arrival, he will wrap things up quickly to spend time with them.

Instead, what follows is a radical act of inclusion as Jesus stretches his hand out towards his disciples and commands,
“Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother”
Matthew 12:49-50 (The Message).

His declaration may well have hurt or offended the members of his “blood” family as they waited outside for him, yet it is a truly authentic statement for the Son of God-who-nurses-Her-people (Isaiah 49:15).

As we enter into a shared life with God, we enter also into a life shared with people who we may not know very well or (as sometimes sadly happens) who we may not even like very much but to whom we are bound by obedience to the God who has formed us and who uses us to “tell the prisoners, ‘Come out of your prison’” and  “tell those in darkness, ‘Come into the light’” (Isaiah 49:9) …

… and those newly liberated,
new to life in the light,
in turn, become brothers and sisters along life’s journey
for the extension of Christ’s kingdom is not a campaign aimed at conquest
but a grace-filled invitation into an ever extending family
formed by the Father’s own hand,
liberated by the love of the Son,
and held together by the Spirit of Truth who testifies to our belonging.

In looking towards the new year, who are the people that God is calling you …
… to love?
… to forgive?
… to journey more closely alongside?
… to invite into the family?

 

 

From Advent to Epiphany

For many, Christmas has – at best – a tenuous connection to the Christ child.

Some Christians refuse to celebrate the season because of the pagan practices that have influenced it and/or its historical inaccuracy. Others really struggle with how to keep the season centred around the coming of Immanuel in the midst of our frenetic, consumer-driver world in which the perfect present is more important than our simple presence.

Yet I am amazed each year at how, in spite of declining membership in most parts of the world, churches fill up on Christmas Day with people for whom hearing the remarkable story of God entering into our life in the vulnerable form of a baby boy is an essential part of their family tradition.

It’s a special time; a moving story about the unimaginable love that God has for the world finding expression in the the fragile relationship between a young virgin and a carpenter who are far away from the support and shelter of home in the days before a miracle is birthed – all under the threat of a jealous king who will do anything to solidify his power.

It’s a story best understood in the context of those dangerous times, and within the seasons of Advent and Epiphany in which we express our commitment as Christians to watch and to wait for the Coming King in the midst of our own struggles and difficulties.

When the mountains tremble is a contemplative journey through this season which seeks to open our eyes to the power and presence of God – not in spite of the trouble and the tumult all around us, but in the very midst of it.

Based on the daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary which we often shy away from (who doesn’t prefer stories of bemused shepherds and worshipping angels to warnings of judgement and destruction?), each day offers the invitation to remember where we’ve come from, give voice to how we’re really feeling, wrestle with some of the deep questions we may not often ask, and wonder with God about where we’re headed.

Some weeks – the first in particular – are more cognitive; while others are more experiential. Some are structured around becoming still; others around getting moving in a particular way. Some of the meditations may feel incomplete and will be returned to in a new way a little further on in the journey, while those left open may be the beginning of a new journey of wonder for you entirely.

It would be helpful to keep a journal over this time; not so much to record the answer to every question you may encounter in the readings (which is not at all necessary), but to jot down a summary of each day’s experience or a particular line or verse that stood out for you, to write out a prayer response to God, to return to your own questions and wonderings as the old year makes way for the new.

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May the One for Whom we Wait
bring us rest and restoration
in what is so often a worn and wearying season
and open our eyes to the signs of His-Her Presence with us,
always and in all things.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne